Filipinas FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - Philippines training

The Philippines trains before its opening match against Switzerland.—REUTERS/Molly Darlington

They spoke of dreams, of motivating young girls to take a path deemed unattainable before.

On paper, the Philippine women’s football team’s best chance to underscore that mission in their historic appearance in the Fifa (International Association Football Federation) Women’s World Cup could be against New Zealand.

On the pitch, the inspired and inspiring Kiwis, cohosts of the tournament with Australia, showed how difficult that may be for the Filipinas.

Hali Long, the Philippines co-captain, knows she and her teammates will be playing for more than results when they kick off their milestone stint against Switzerland on Friday.

“I just want [myself] and the rest of the team to be attainable and reachable for little girls back home,” Long said in the prematch press conference where she and coach Alen Stajcic described not only the gargantuan task of producing a shock result in Dunedin, New Zealand but also seeing the Filipinas reach the biggest stage of women’s football for the first time.

“We dreamt of this and if they have big dreams, they follow it, they do the hardwork that we did, it will be easier for them one day and believe that they can see themselves right here like us,” added the long-time central defender and most capped Filipina.

Sentimental feeling

There will be a sentimental feeling by the time the Filipinas go out of the pitch inside Forsyth Barr Stadium for the 1 p.m. Manila time kickoff, particularly hearing the national anthem and playing in the World Cup, a reality that was once an impossible dream.

“I always knew I was gonna see it one day in my life, I didn’t know I would be here being able to live it, breathe it, struggle through it, love it like I am right now. So I’m super honored and grateful to be able to play in the moment to see the Philippines take the global stage for the first time,” Long said.

Any win would be a stunning result for the debutants, getting there even ahead of the men’s squad.

Perhaps the team’s best chance comes against New Zealand, which enters the tournament having lost seven of its last nine games. The cohosts (No. 26 in the world) are also the lowest-ranked foes of the Philippines (No. 46) in the group stage. The others in the Filipinas’s group are Norway (No. 12) and Switzerland (No. 20). Moreover, the Philippines held a 1-0 lead against New Zealand in a previous friendly before losing, 2-1.

‘Clear goal’

New Zealand Hannah Wilkinson Women's World Cup

New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson, center, celebrates scoring the first goal with teammates during the Women’s World Cup soccer match between New Zealand and Norway in Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, March 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Rafaela Pontes)

But New Zealand just quashed that notion with a stunning 1-0 upset of Norway at Eden Park in Auckland on Thursday.

And the Kiwis made it clear they, too, were playing for something bigger than themselves.

“I am so, so proud,” said a tearful New Zealand cocaptain Ali Riley after the game. “We have been fighting for this for so long.”

“We had a clear goal that we wanted to inspire young girls, young people, in this country and around the world. And I really think we did that tonight—anything is possible.”

It’s the same thought that fuels Long and her teammates.

As they finally suit up for the one sporting arena that the Philippines hasn’t played in, there will be several things worth looking out for.

Getting the first-ever World Cup goal for the country will be among the things Filipino fans back at home and those privileged to travel all the way to New Zealand are going to anticipate.

Meanwhile, after stunning Norway, the 1995 champions, New Zealand is also looking forward to the match against the Philippines on Tuesday, for a different reason.

The Football Ferns could very well use that match to grab the top spot in Group A.

Hannah Wilkinson’s second-half goal gave New Zealand the dream start it needed. in front of a crowd of 42,137—a record for a football match in New Zealand.

On Friday, the Filipinas will try to make their own dreams come true.


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